One of my favorite Christmas traditions growing up (apart from the gifts) was our 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight service. I loved the service even though it was sometimes hard to stay awake. The thing I liked was, as we left the church it was already Christmas Day. Even as a child I knew that worship at Christmas was appropriate.
We don’t have an 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Service (and I surely wouldn’t be able to stay awake for it if we did and I would be very tired today). Traditions were already established when I arrived so we tried to think “outside the box” and came up with the Eve before Christmas Eve service. It works well for us and it brings people from all over the community to our church for a time of quiet reflection before the family traditions of Christmas kick in.
However, there is something special about worshipping on Christmas morning. It feels like we have our priorities right when we stop and bow before the Savior on Christmas Day. I am grateful that all of you apparently feel the same way.
This morning I take you to the Magi who came from the East. They arrived sometime after the birth of Jesus, anywhere from days, to several months later. Notice their intention.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’ ”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” (Matthew 2:1-8)
How appropriate. The Magi saw the star and instinctively knew what they needed to do: they needed to come and worship the newborn King.
The word “worship” means to give respect and reverence to someone. It is to regard with honor and homage (or a sense of their superiority). We worship when we give attention to the Lord. It is an attention that results in a changed heart and life.
So why is worship appropriate at Christmas? First, it is appropriate because of who Jesus is. The baby born in Bethlehem is God become man. There are people who say Jesus was just a man. Listen to the Bible’s testimony. In Colossians 1 we read,
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross
In Hebrews 1 we read,
The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3)
Jesus is worthy of our worship because of who He Is. He is the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all that is. He is the head of the church. While on the earth He healed, cast out demons, feed the masses, walked on water, raised the dead, and forgave sin. He deserves our worship. This is no ordinary man! Jesus is God who became man to live among us.
He also deserves our worship because of what He did. Philippians 2:6-8 states it best,
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Jesus left the throne room of Heaven and came to earth . . . trading His royalty for the constraints of an infant, so he could do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He came to earth to die in our place. That kind of love should motivate our worship and everlasting gratitude. The Savior became the servant.
When Jesus gave His life for us He made it possible for us to be right with God. He made it possible for us to be forgiven. He opened the door for us to have a new beginning. He brought us hope, peace, and the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit into every moment and situation of our lives. He brought us near to God. His work on our behalf changed our direction, our destination, and our motivation in life. Our gratitude should overflow into an attitude of worship.
We also worship Christ because of what he is going to do. The coming of Christ is not just about something that happened in the past . . . it is also about what is going to happen in the future. Even as Jesus was ascending into Heaven, angels said to the disciples,
Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (Acts 1:11)
As you read through the Bible you see that Jesus is the rightful ruler of the world. He will come back to take his rightful place as King over all. At that time, wrong will be made right; disease will give way to health; death will lead to life. Those who have embraced and follow Christ will be given new bodies and will live forever with the Lord. Those who have spurned Him or ignored Him will be cast away.
As the “Ruler Elect” He deserves our worship and honor now.
We should also worship Him because doing so enriches our own souls and lives. I list this last because in some respects it sounds a little on the selfish side. However, the point is: when we worship, we are changed. Worship enriches our lives. Chuck Swindoll lists six ways worship enriches us,
- Worship magnifies my God. All else is eclipsed in His presence
- Worship enlarges my horizons. I begin to see beyond the self-imposed fences
- Worship eclipses my fears. I soon forget those things that gnaw at me when I worship.
- Worship changes my perspective. It is nothing short of remarkable. An attitude on Friday is so different than on Monday, because sandwiched between a Friday and a Monday is a worship service in which my whole perspective changes.
- Worship refreshes my spirit.
- Worship enhances my work. When I put worship to work in my life, when I see worship as a response to God woven through the fabric of my day, it’s amazing how my attitude toward tasks changes.
When we worship the Lord, we find life is right; it is in balance. It opens the door between us and the Lord. Max Lucado has written,
Worship does to the soul what a spring rain does to a thirsty field. It soaks down, seeps in, and stirs life. Are you stressed? Worship God, who could store the universe in his pocket and the oceans in an eyedropper. Are you ashamed? Worship Jesus, whose love never fades. Are you bereaved? Open your heart to your Shepherd. He will lead you through the valley of sorrow. Do you feel small? A few moments in front of the throne of your loving King will evaporate any sense of insignificance. Worship works wonders. For your own sake do what the angels did: make a big deal about the arrival of the King. (Love is Born pp. 64-65)
What Does it Mean to Worship?
We throw the word “worship” around frequently but we seldom stop to define it. It is kind of like the word “love”. People like to use the word but they often pervert it by the way they use it. Such is the case with “worship”.
Just this week I heard on the radio, a caller who asked the hosts at K-Love how to find a good church. To her it appeared that the best church was the one that sang the kind of music played on K-Love. Unfortunately, the answer from the hosts was painfully off target. They told this woman to look for a church that had a name like a James Bond movie because that meant it was a newer church and they likely sang newer music. They said she should look for a church that meets in a school or a factory like building.
Not only were they dismissive of established churches, their view of what made a good church focused on the kind of music that was sung! In other words, worship = contemporary Christian songs! More and more you hear people say, “Let’s spend some time in worship” when what they mean is, let’s spend some time singing (hopefully to the Lord).
I wish the hosts had pointed out that music can be an expression of worship but the more important issue is to find a church that teaches the Bible without compromise and that stirs the heart to surrender more fully to the Lord. Look for a church where the people are honest about their sin and serious about their holiness. You can sing all day, and “love” the music, without ever bowing the heart or knee to Christ as Lord! Worship also happens in times of prayer, quiet, and in times of encounter with the Word of God. We talk about worship but we don’t always know what it means.
Worship is giving praise and honor to God. It is acknowledging His greatness and surrendering our hearts and lives before that greatness. It is, if you will, coming before the throne of God, bowing before Him and saying, “How can I serve you, O Lord?” We worship the Lord by the lives we lead. Hundreds of times every day we make choices between what God says and what our desires want or the culture demands. Every time we choose God’s way, we are bending our heart to His Lordship . . . and we honor Him. In essence, we worship.
One of the things I love to do at Christmastime is to turn all the lights off except for those of the Christmas Tree. There is a quietness in those moments much different than the hustle and bustle of the season. In that quietness, I get to reflect on the true beauty and wonder of Christmas. Sometimes I’ll put the music on in the background and take in the wonderful lyrics of Christmas songs. These are moments of worship because they draw me into the wonder of His presence.
Not everything that is called worship IS worship. Sometimes our worship focuses on us. Sometimes it is a performance. Sometimes we get fed up with the hypocrisy of those who claim to be worshipping. Max Lucado again directs us correctly,
Yes, outward expressions of worship can be used inappropriately. People show off. They strut. They worship to be seen. But don’t let potential abuse preclude appropriate use. Lift your hands. Clap your hands. Bend your knees. Bow your head. Fall down on your face. Something powerful happens when we worship. (p. 67)
We worship the Lord when the focus is the Lord rather than ourselves. It is when our hearts our open and our will is receptive to following where the Lord leads.
We worship when we pray with intensity, listen in the time of quiet, are attentive and interactive with the exposition of God’s Word, and yes, we should sing with enthusiasm. I love this quote from John Wesley,
John Wesley wrote, “Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.”
We cheer wildly at sporting events. Over 5 million people came out to cheer the Cubs after their World Series victory. They stood in line for hours. They cheered until they were hoarse. People go to concerts and sing at the top of their lungs. They clap, they dance, and they are filled with enthusiasm. Sometimes they spend large sums of money so they can do this. Yet . . . we come to worship and people seem to sit on their hands. They look bored and can’t wait to escape the confines of God’s presence. That shows that we do not understand the greatness of what Jesus has done. We do not know the sense of awe that He deserves. We don’t really understand the wonder of Christmas. Something is terribly wrong with what we call worship.
True worship is about the posture of our heart.
The Magi presented gifts. They gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and Myrrh. When people worshiped at the temple they brought their offerings. This is the same thing we should be doing when we give our offering on a Sunday morning. It is supposed to be an act of worship rather than a time when you feel like you are “paying your dues”. The Israelites gave God 1/10th of their income as a way of acknowledging the Lord’s ownership of all we have. When we give with this spirit we honor the Lord.
We can give Him gifts in other ways. You gave Him the gift of time today. You paid Him honor and showed respect by carving out time for worship on Christmas morning.
We can give to others. There are people who have big needs. It doesn’t have to be money that you give. You can, in Jesus’ name, offer to babysit children, cook someone a meal, shovel snow, get groceries or any number of other things. Jesus said when we show grace and kindness to those the world overlooks; we have done it to Him.
Every time we choose the way of the Lord over the way and values of the world we show Him honor. Anytime we risk the displeasure of men to do what He has told us to do we honor Him.
What God has done for us in coming to earth to save us should stun us. It should lead us to worship. We are fortunate this year that we get to worship on Christmas Day. However, if we understand what took place in Bethlehem and then later, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, we should want to worship Him every day, throughout the day.
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Day. I pray you know the warmth of family. I pray that this day reminds you that those who are no longer here and have put their trust in Christ are not gone; they have gone on. Because of Christmas we have hope even in the face of sadness. As you enjoy the gifts you may receive, it is my prayer that you would continually turn back to reflect on the gift that God gave to you. And may that reflection lead you to bow in humble adoration and worship not just today, but every day.